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I was once waiting in a school lobby for a conversation with a principal. A little boy was sitting in the chair next to me. He had his knees pulled up to his chest, and his feet were on the chair’s seat; it was almost as though he was rolled into a little, nervous ball. A man, who I assumed was his father, came into the lobby and spoke with the little boy. You could sense the tension. The man then walked up to the front desk and talked with the secretary. A few minutes later, an administrator came out of an office and proceeded to tell that father everything that the little boy had done wrong that day, right there in the middle of the school waiting room!

At first, I ignored the conversation and tried to fiddle with my phone. Finally, I walked up to the front desk and in a very loud voice asked the secretary if there was somewhere else I could wait because I wanted to give the family some privacy. I moved to the nurse’s office and didn’t see the end of the conversation, but my heart broke for both the father and the student. I can only imagine the emotion of that father coming in that day and that alone must have been hard. But that, coupled with the public shaming …well it must have been just awful. 

I called the school to make sure that never happened again. I think we can all agree that conversations like this one should be handled in a private space but I’d like to build on that idea.  

What if that father walked in, and the school administrator not only greeted him and escorted him to a private room, but offered him a cup of coffee?

Think about it, that simple gesture…a cup of coffee…really has the power to change not just the entire interaction, but the entire relationship that father has with the school. Because a cup of coffee is a friendly gesture of hospitality to a guest in our school and it’s warm (literally) and welcoming. But it’s so much more than that. 

It’s a form of communication.

And what it says is…“I’m going to spend some time with you…at least as much time as it takes for you to drink a cup of coffee and we are going to sit down together and get this figured out.” It says, “You are my priority right now and to prove it, I’m going to settle in and we are going to talk.” And it says,”We are going to create a space for sharing.”

That coffee (or that glass of water) communicates partnership, caring, and respect. 

It’s also a simple way to calm what might be an emotional conversation. In a word, it’s disarming. Offering coffee starts the interaction with unexpected kindness. And for parents or caregivers who might be emotional walking through the door, that can immediately soften their feelings. 

And, if they take you up on your coffee offer, that’s even better. It will take you some time to step out and go get a cup…and that will give your parents some time to sit, get a little more comfortable in the space, and maybe even take some deep breaths. 

In the end, that simple gesture…offering a cup of coffee…will help you have a richer, more productive conversation, one that is focused less on emotion and more on student success.  

If you’d like more tips on communicating with families, reach out to me on my website and let’s talk. While you’re there, download my free Playbook for Clear Effective and Meaningful School Communication.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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